I'm continuing with some palette ideas I started last winter and spring. You can see a couple more of them in this post from May. I'm interested in exploring how our perception of a scene changes with a warm or a cool palette, and the way a limited color range serves to harmonize a painting. This study was done 11x17" across a two page spread in a 8.5x11" Stillman and Birn Epsilon Hardbound sketchbook. I know it's not designed for wet media, but it works great. Their books will open completely flat if you break them in before you start using them, which makes it ideal for working across the spread. I used the new Golden High Flow acrylics, and just a bit of water instead of medium. I'm trying to arrange a setup that's easy to work with in the field at the same time, and hope to test drive that out on location tomorrow. I used six colors for this one. I'm very close to being happy with the selections, but I'm going to make a couple of palette changes today and try again.
I don't always do compositional sketches before embarking on a painting. When working out on location, the time to paint is always too short as it is. However, sometimes there are many elements we plan to move around or change. The sketches above are about 4.5x6", done in my Stillman & Birn hardbound sketchbook. The top one is acrylic over a pencil sketch, and the bottom one is watercolor over pencil.
In the top sketch, there was actually no pathway at all going into the field. I felt the scene needed a way to draw the viewer into the composition. I did the sketch in pencil to test drive my ideas. After setting up to paint applying some color over my pencil sketch gave me a chance to try out some color mixes too. When I stepped in to do the actual painting (in acrylic), which was 15x20, I'd resolved many potential problems before I even lifted my brush. This is the finished painting, which will be going up on my Hudson Valley Painter blog soon.
Based on the sketch I'd done, I made further changes when doing the painting. The sketch gave me a chance to consider more options.
The sketch of Croton Gorge Dam was done because the scene was so complex. I wasn't planning to make changes as much as I was trying to wrap my head around what would go where in the confusing mass of shapes, textures and perspective. It took three sketches before I had something I felt I could work with. The first two failures made me extremely grateful that I hadn't just jumped in on my 16x20" painting. Once I did this third sketch of the gorge, waterfall, dam, and bridge, I took out my watercolors and splashed some color on just to get a better idea of what it would look like. I felt I finally had a good working design, and broke out the larger panel for my painting and my acrylics.
This one still needs a few studio tweaks, but I don't think I could have captured this scene effectively if I hadn't taken the time to do the sketches. In this case, the sketches were more complicated and took a lot more time than usual. That proved to me how much I needed to do them, and how far off the mark my painting would have been if I'd neglected that step. It would have ended up as poorly designed as my first sketch of the day (which was so bad that I actually erased it even though it was in my sketchbook!)
The moral of my story to myself is that sometimes it is well worth the time and effort to Sketch Before You Paint. It's the artist's equivalent to Think Before You Speak, and Look Before You Leap!
11x17" (across the spread) in a Stillman & Birn Zeta Sketchbook
Background monoprinted in several layers with a Gelli Printing Plate
Sketches done with a Faber-Castell Pitt Calligraphy Pen
My plein air group went to Green Chimneys today, which is a residential facility for children. Their philosophy is that children benefit greatly from caring for and interacting with animals. They have a wonderful farm on the campus. Many of the animals here have been rescued and are in the rehabilitation process, not so unlike the children that reside here.
It was over 90 degrees today, and you'd never know we were into September. Due to the heat and my love of the animals, I decided to spend the few hours there sketching instead of working on a single painting. Of course the animals were in constant motion, so the sketches were gestures, done as they moved about. The sketch above (which you can click on to enlarge it), was actually the last one of the day. It was done across a two page spread of an 8.5x11" Stillman and Birn Zeta hardbound book, which gave me a full 11x17" work area. This is extremely heavyweight paper (180lb) and is fabulous for multi-media work. I've been using a large Gelli Printing Plate to print textured layers of color across the pages. I've done it in both Zeta and Epsilon books. I love having a toned, textured ground to sketch against, especially when working in monochrome. I sketched with a Faber Castell Pitt Calligraphy Pen. I wished I'd brought a bunch of Pitt Brush Pens with me, but alas, I did not.
Above is a two page spread in a smaller Zeta book, without a toned ground. The book is 5.5x8.5", which gives me a letter-size space when working across the spread. When we first arrived at the location, we gathered near a small pond filled with several different types of ducks, geese, and some beautiful swans. They were all highly entertaining! I started out with the little watercolor thumbnail sketch of the pond scene, then did some gesture sketches of the geese and swans, using the same Walnut Brown Calligraphy Pen, and a little watercolor.
I got tired of the brown and wanted to work with a brush, so for the sketch above, I pulled out a Pentel Aquash Grey (or maybe Light Black?) brush pen, plus my Kuretake brush pen, which was filled with Platinum Carbon Black ink. I added orange gouache for the beaks and cerulean blue watercolor for the shadows. I liked these two gestures. The goose on the left kept ducking his head down into the water to drink, then would raise it way up. Every time he stretched his neck and head up, I put in a few more lines!
11x17" across the spread, Stillman & Birn Zeta Hardbound book
Golden Fluid Acrylics background, printed with a Gelli Plate
Sketch done with Golden High Flow Acrylics
My friend Bea called me over to the other side of the pond to witness some swan antics. One kept swimming back and forth in front of me. I found this page that I'd printed using paper doilies on the printing plate to keep some clear areas, and decided to put the swans there. I worked on several views at once, changing from one to the other as he changed direction, swimming around in a circle. I mixed a violet out of some of the new Golden High Flow Acrylics, using Ultramarine Blue and Quinacridone Red, and did the sketches directly with a watercolor brush. The orange is Pyrrole Orange, a color I am becoming quite addicted to!